How ASU Football Got Michael Turk Back to Tempe

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The start of Michael Turk’s career with Arizona State was pretty improbable. The transfer punter instantly won over the Sun Devil faithful after his first game of the 2019 season, when he earned Ray Guy Punter of the Week Honors for thumping five punts at an average of 63 yards per kick against Kent State.

In total, he booted 32 of his 59 regular-season punts inside the 20-yard line, a rate that was second-best in the nation. The redshirt sophomore then made headlines when he opted to leave Tempe early for the NFL Draft. His improbable performances continued at the NFL combine when he threw up more bench press reps than first-round offensive tackles Tristan Wirfs and Mekhi Beckton.

Despite having a cannon for a leg and a gun show for arms, the Sun Devil punter was not selected or signed by an NFL team in late April. 

That’s when ASU football started their own improbable effort to get Turk back to Tempe with his eligibility.

ASU special teams coach Shawn Slocum approached the athletic department’s compliance office to see if the NCAA would forgive violations – hiring an agent – after Turk’s pre-draft experience was severely impacted in an unprecedented offseason. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Turk could not participate in a Pro Day and was incredibly limited in the in-person visits he could have with teams. The punter never received a fair shot to showcase what he could do at the next level.

“As a punter, as a specialist, it’s just a much different experience,” ASU chief athletics compliance officer and special counsel Steve Webb said. “You need to have all those in-person workouts not only from an evaluation standpoint, but then you need the activities that allow you to be signed and then to be able to participate alongside the incumbent and none of that happened. None of that was foreseeable not to happen at the time that Michael made his decision (to declare) in January.”

At first, Webb thought the argument wouldn’t have much of a leg to stand on. After reading through the argument organized by compliance director Justin Pollnow, that doubt began to dissipate.

“We have a shot at this one,” Webb thought.

On June 3, the NCAA made what is believed to be a first-time decision to allow the redshirt sophomore Turk to return to the Sun Devils with reinstated eligibility. It took a series of events no one imagined four months ago and a very specific position group, but the stars aligned for this particular waiver.

“The case was so specific to someone in his scenario,” Webb said.

“(NFL coaches) need that opportunity to go see that kid in person and there’s so few punters that are taken. That’s a very important component for specialists and none of that happened.”

After a few weeks, news came down that Turk’s eligibility had been reinstated and the congratulatory texts started coming in. The compliance office is usually focused on mitigating risk and keeping those in the program from losing their eligibility. It’s not lost on Webb what it took to get one of their players to have eligibility reinstated.

“When you are actually able to do this to get a student-athlete to participate when they otherwise wouldn’t … I just think it’s great for Michael and for Justin.” 

“You’re looking at a kid whose career was over. Over. That’s the best part of what we do.”